BOOKS IN REVIEW
Everett F. Bleiler
Lost Worlds and Lost Opportunities
Arthur Conan Doyle. The
Annotated Lost World. The Classic Adventure Novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Annotated, with an Introduction by Roy Pilot and Dr. Alvin Rodin. Indianapolis: Wessex
Press, 1996. xxiii+ 264pp. $34.95.
Around the boundary point common to Brazil, Venezuela, and Guayana (formerly British
Guiana), lies a succession of flat sandstone mesas that stand high above the surrounding
countryside and are either difficult or almost impossible of access. The most famous of
these is Mount Roraima, which extends for about nine miles and is in places about two
thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. The local Indians regarded it as
inaccessible, and for centuries it has had a reputation as a phenomenon of nature. Sir
Walter Raleigh may have known of it as the "diamond mountain," and eighteenth
and early nineteenth-century explorers speculated about the wonders that might exist on
its surface. Finally, in 1884 the British explorer Everard Im Thurn discovered a way of
access from the Venezuelan end and reached the top. He discovered that there was little of
interest, not a single tree, only low shrubs and herbs, but that the landscape was a
bewildering succession of strangely shaped, wind-carved rock features.
Im Thurn's report, which was written in a colorful way, did not destroy the legend of
Mount Roraima, which remained potent. Even more potent for international affairs, however,
was the recognition that this general area was rich in minerals, including gold, and was
also one of the major sources for diamonds before the discovery of the Kimberley deposits
in South Africa. Possession of the general Guianan highlands became a matter of bitter
dispute between the British Empire, which claimed the whole area, including much of
present-day Venezuela, on the basis of Dutch rights (which the British had acquired in the
Treaty of Breda and the Congress of Vienna), and Venezuela, which claimed to be the
successor to Spanish land grants.
The dispute simmered through the nineteenth century, but in the 1880s and 1890s became
a crisis when the British made moves to annex the disputed areas. The international
community urged the British to seek an arbitrated settlement, which was refused. Finally,
in the middle 1890s, when the British established outposts and began to expel Venezuelan
officials, the United States protested strongly. Congress passed a resolution condemning
the British action, and President Grover Cleveland, invoking the Monroe Doctrine, warned
the British that annexation would be considered an act of war. The British, at this point,
agreed to accept arbitration.
An international tribunal met in Paris in 1899 to settle the question. The membership
included two representatives from the United States, two representatives of British
Guiana (the British Empire), and one Russian representative, Frederick de Martens, who the
Venezuelans later charged had been bought by the British. Martens cast the deciding
three-two vote, and to British Guiana was assigned about nine-tenths of the area claimed
(including Roraima). This area, as might be expected, is still Venezuela irredenta.
British Guiana received the larger part of Mount Roraima, but the access route
discovered by Im Thurn remained in Venezuela, which then adopted a dog-in-the-manger
attitude, forbidding access and in effect prohibiting further exploration, for the Guianan
side is a sheer cliff inaccessible except to skilled mountain climbers with full
equipment, as described by Hamish MacInnes in Climb to the Lost World.
Despite the political importance of this dispute, Venezuelan literature seems to have
ignored it. An examination of the histories of Venezuelan fiction available at Cornell
has failed to reveal a treatment of Roraima. Most quality Venezuelan fiction seems to
have been modeled on French comedy-of-manners prototypes or on criollismo (local color
and naturalism with patois). It is possible, of course, that romantic fiction based on
Roraima exists in undescribed popular fiction or ephemeral literature.
In the United States, however, Roraima, in addition to a great deal of newspaper
coverage, received attention in two short novels, adventures of Frank Reade, Jr., the
dime-novel boy inventor, published during the height of the crisis. In Along the
Orinoco by "Noname" (Frank Reade Library No. 130, April 3, 1896) Frank and
his friend Professor Peregrine discuss "Raraima," which they believe contains
"mighty treasures...valuable gold claims...awaiting the magic touch of
civilization" (p. 2). Peregrine adds "[on] the mighty elevated plateaus with
sides so precipitous that man could not scale them... there might exist forms of animal
life which may have been extinct in other parts of the world" (p. 2).
The professor suggests that Frank visit Raraima, not by air, as would seem most
practicable, but with Frank's new electric Moto-van, a sort of land rover. The men and
Frank's crew set out, have adventures along the way, and, when they reach the general
area, are instrumental in forcing a brutal gang of trespassing English miners to leave
Venezuelan territory. But the Moto-van does not stand up to the difficulties of travel,
and the men return, quest unsuccessful.
In the second Frank Reade story about Roraima, The Island in the Air (Frank
Reade Library No. 133, May 15, 1896), "Noname" soliloquizes about the wonders of
"Raraima," describing its potential mineral wealth, its bad reputation among the
natives as an abode of evil supernatural powers, and its possibility as a refuge:
"...it seemed not beyond the range of possibility that this plateau, probably beyond
the reach of that destroying genius--man--yet held forms of flora and fauna peculiar to a
past age. Perhaps the megothermi [sic] yet found a home there, or the
icthyosaurus [sic], or the plesiosaurus, or some other outlandish and unknown
creatures" (p. 2).
Frank and his team, including Professor Vaneyke, board Frank's latest land rover and
set out for Roraima. There is no mention of the previous expedition, which, so far as the
story is concerned, never happened. The party reaches Roraima, where it encounters a lost
race of friendly Incas. Ascending a dry stream bed, the explorers drive to the top of the
plateau, where they encounter two white lost races, whom they term, from fancied
resemblances, Greeks and Romans, though they are not such. The blond Greeks are friendly,
but the swarthy Romans are very hostile. The adventure comes to an end when the Romans
capture the land rover and, riding about in it out of control, dash it over the cliff.
Frank and comrades escape and make their way to the coast on foot. They did not find
dinosaurs, but they did encounter giant elks and a megatherium.
The authorship of these novels, which were published under the house pseudonym
"Noname," is not known, although Luis Senarens (1863-1939), who initiated the
Frank Reade, Jr., series, claimed to have written most of the adventures. Nor is it known
why Roraima should have been the topic of two stories in such a short time. One might
speculate that the same assignment chanced to have been written twice.
In Great Britain Roraima makes its appearance in Frank Aubrey's The Devil-Tree of Eldorado (1870), Unlike "Noname," whose sympathy is with the Venezuelans,
Aubrey, a rampant imperialist, roundly asserts British ownership of the Roraima area on
the basis of fairly recent exploration. He mentions the possible mineral rights, the
necessity of British control of the riverheads involved, and contemns the Venezuelans, who
constitute "a miserable little state...where civil anarchy is chronic, and neither
life nor property is secure" (p. ix). Aubrey also stresses the scientific interest of
the isolated plateau: "...it holds out to the successful explorer the chance--the
probability even--of finding there hitherto unknown animals, plants, fish. In this respect
it exceeds in interest all other parts of the earth's surface" (p. vi).
Aubrey's story, which was probably intended as a boys' book, departs from Roraima as a
geographically reasonable (in a science-fictional sense) lost world, but instead latches
onto the legend of Manoa and the Golden Man, which centered in this area. Aubrey considers
Roraima and the surrounding country to have been the home of a highly civilized pre-Indian
white race, some members of whom still survive. In addition to possessing a technique for
near immortality, they delight in dynastic squabbles in the manner of the contemporary
adventure story. There are no dinosaurs, only a man-eating tree like the famed monster of
Much the most important story to be based on Roraima, of course, is Arthur Conan
Doyle's The Lost World, which first appeared in The Strand Magazine from
April to November 1912. The concept of the isolated plateau and its biota of primitive
survivals, its general location in South America, the use of manipulated genuine
photographs of Roraima as illustrations, all invoke Roraima on a tacit, metaphoric level,
yet, oddly enough, Doyle does not once mention Roraima, a surprising omission given his
general imperialistic point of view. Nevertheless, the consensus has identified the Maple
White Land of Doyle's explorers with Roraima, and there is no strong reason to question
Why Doyle so carefully elided the obvious has never been explained. Nor does Doyle give
a clear routing to his lost world. The best that can be said is that narrator Malone's
vague description of the progress of the expedition seems to bring it out into the Serra
Curipuri in the Brazilian State of Roraima, which Doyle may have confused with
Venezuelan-Guianan Mount Roraima. Malone emphasizes that Professor Challenger, the leader
of the expedition, insisted on secrecy, and admits to obscuring data. Challenger may have
had his reasons, but Doyle, too, may have had his reasons: a narrative tactic for avoiding
the labor of precise descriptions. As far as local color goes, most of the journey (with
the exception of one painterly descriptive passage) might have taken place along an inland
waterway in Great Britain. That Doyle did little real geographical research (as Jules
Verne would have done in a comparable situation), seems obvious. His interest was not
geographic and he was not writing a travel novel.2
The Lost World is, of course, one of the patterning works in science fiction,
a model upon which many stories and motion pictures have been formed. Yet relatively
little scholarly attention has been paid to it. This follows the general situation with
Doyle. Not only has Doyle been greatly neglected as a writer, but studies of his work have
taken a strange turn, which the Cornell University Library exemplifies. There, books about
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars--many of questionable value--take up about
eight feet of shelf space. Books about Arthur Conan Doyle or his other works? About eight
inches, six of which are multiple copies of Pierre Nordon's Conan Doyle, including a
2. The Annotated Lost World is a good beginning toward remedying this general neglect,
so far as a single work is concerned. Messrs. Pilot and Rodin have reprinted the Hodder
and Stoughton 1912 text (checked against the Strand Magazine text and American
Doran text), with the various illustrations from the three mentioned printings plus a
series by Joseph Clement Coll from the Sunday Magazine. (An exact citation for
the Sunday Magazine would have been desirable.) A good appendix discusses the
Wallace Beery motion picture The Lost World, revealing the unfortunate situation
that about half the original footage has been lost. Another appendix offers information
about the photographic fakery associated with the novel.
The introduction discusses, among other matters, Doyle's general interest in
paleontology and paleoanthropology and his friendship with Edwin Ray Lankester, whose
popular work on extinct animals forms the background to the fauna of Maple White Land; but
the editors' primary interest seems to be finding real-life prototypes for the characters
in the novel. They accept the usual association of the egotistical Professor Challenger
with Professor William Rutherford of the University of Edinburgh, under whom Doyle
studied, but they add to Challenger elements of Doyle's former senior, the eccentric
half-charlatan Dr. George Budd of Plymouth. In this I would not follow Pilot and Rodin;
Budd seems to me a totally different personality. I would also wonder whether the mad
scientist of fiction may not form a part of Challenger.
Pilot and Rodin go on to associate Lord John Roxton with aspects of Sir Roger Casement
and Percy Fawcett. Casement is probably still recognizable to a modern reader, but Fawcett
may not be. Fawcett, a competent geographer and surveyor, was active in South American
exploration; unfortunately, he had an eccentric streak, was imbued with occultism, and
presumably died on an expedition to find lost cities in Brazil. His used to be considered
one of the great disappearances of the twentieth century, but he is now probably
forgotten. Doyle knew both Casement and Fawcett and seems to have held their geographical
experiences in the back of his mind when he wrote the story.
A related attempt by Pilot and Rodin at finding a prototype for Malone, the Irish
narrator, seems unnecessary. Malone is simply a fictional type. Doyle was obviously
striking at a trinity of intellect (creative and destructive), action, and sensation, with
the sensitive Irish Malone offering the pole of feeling.
Pilot and Rodin, however, do not consider literary prototypes for The Lost World,
apart from a general reference to H. Rider Haggard. They might have considered the second
Frank Reade, Jr., novel, The Island in the Air, which shares motifs with The
Lost World. A body is found at the base of the cliff in both. Both Frank Reade and
Challenger find Roraima at first inaccessible. A tree offers entry. In The Island in
the Air, Barney climbs a rope to a tree at the edge. In The Lost World
Challenger and his colleagues ascend a rope to a tree, which they fell across a chasm.
Pomp is assaulted by a subhuman, apelike creature. Malone is assaulted by a subhuman
(called a Pithecanthropus erectus). Frank and his friends see gigantic Irish elk (an
element as appropriate to the faunal melange as a giraffe in Greenland), as does
Challenger's group. Frank finally locates a cave-like tunnel which he ascends; Challenger
and associates find such a tunnel, now unfortunately blocked, but descend through another.
The suggestion is that Doyle read The Island in the Air when it was reprinted in
England around the turn of the century and remembered scattered details.3
Would Doyle make such use of material without acknowledgment? There is precedent in his
work. He is known to have purchased plots for development; indeed, about fifty years ago a
new Sherlock Holmes story was found among his papers and published. Alas, it turned out to
have been written by a ghost and purchased by Doyle, but not used. It has also been
pointed out that several of the more important Sherlockisms have been taken almost word
for word from L'Affaire Lerouge by Emile Gaboriau.4 In line with such use of
sources, the editors mention that the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library holds
the original manuscript of The Lost World, together with a notebook including
miscellaneous material and text that was not used. Such material would, of course, be of
great interest and it is lamentable that the editors do not go beyond a bare mention of
3.The present volume is designated The Annotated Lost World, and part of the
editors' contribution is a series of annotations. Are annotations really necessary? Some
annotated texts, like Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice and William S. and
Cecil Baring-Gould's The Annotated Mother Goose, are invaluable for imparting a
wealth of historical and expository material. But I do not think that The Lost World
falls into the same grouping. Except for one word--"telegony"--which denotes a
concept now as out-of-date and as rejected as phlogiston, there is very little in the book
that requires textual exegesis for a moderately intelligent reader and could not be worked
out from context or simply accepted.
But since the editors have supplied annotations, they must be evaluated. They are very
uneven and badly proofed. The editors have put work into identifying and illustrating
aspects of Professor Challenger's London and have gone back to the earlier literature for
contemporary understanding of dinosaurs. These annotations are acceptable. Other notes,
however, leave something to be desired, both in writing and data. For example, Malone,
when enumerating roles he will assume to win Gladys's hand, says, "'Just say the
word--teetotal, vegetarian, aeronaut, Theosophist'" (p. 4). The annotators explain
Theosophist as "an ancient religious philosophy that emphasizes mystical experience
and occult phenomena." This is not only a bad definition, but misses the point.
Malone is obviously referring (since the word is capitalized) to Annie Besant's
Theosophical Society, which was an important element in certain circles of the day. Page
29: Discussing Celts, "The British Isles are now represented chiefly by the Irish,
Gaels, Welsh, and Bretons." Page 83: "bravo" and "manso,"
referring to Indians hired for the expedition, are defined as "courageous and tame
respectively." Actually, "un indio bravo era un salvaje, sin ser feroz" and
manso "un Indio que vive en poblado, en oposición de bravo" (Santamaria, Diccionario
general de Americanismos). In other words, wild Indians and house or town Indians.
Page 84: The annotators misunderstand "of polysynthetic speech and of Mongolian
type" when Summerlee and Challenger are disputing the classification of the local
Indians. Here Mongolian, which the annotators interpret as the Mongol language, obviously
refers to somatology; Challenger and Summerlee are discussing a common racial
classification of the day. Page 98: A stylographic pen is not a "fountain pen with a
pierced conical point through which the ink flows" but a pen with a little
piston-like device that retracts on pressure, permitting ink to flow out. Page 126: The
annotators take the phrase "Nunc dimittis," which they misattribute to
Challenger rather than to Summerlee, as a hint to move on. Actually, these are the opening
words (and the popular title) of the Canticle of Simeon, which is used in daily ceremonies
by both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches. A statement of thanksgiving, it is
derived ultimately from the Vulgate version of the Gospel of Luke. Sumerlee is thus
rejoicing in having been privileged in what he has seen. The quotation offers an insight
into Summerlee, and even more into Doyle, who, though still pretty much an agnostic, was
moving toward spiritualism.
One annotation puzzles me: "Hashish (also known as bhang or Siddhi) is a mixture
of the flowering tops of the female plant Cannabis Sativa, Poppy seed, Ginger, Pepper, and
others all boiled together. Its deleterious effects are believed to be due to its use in a
mixture with Opium and Hyoscyamus. A.O.L. Potter, Therapeutic Materia Medica and
Pharmacy, 12th ed."
Potter hasn't been available to me, but every source that I have checked (including the
definitive Osol and Farrar) describes hashish as purely Cannabis indica (a.k.a. Cannabis
sativa), without the assorted additives. I have heard that users have added everything
from nutmeg to maple syrup to their particular fixes, but I would suggest that Potter is
somewhat far out. "Siddhi," too, is the Sanskrit word for paranormal abilities,
hinting at anticipated results rather than pharmacography. But the younger generation may
know more of such matters than I do.
If comment is considered necessary, the annotators have missed opportunities. Page 5:
Malone says, "'There was nothing worth bucking about.'" Meaning? Page 83: Malone
gives an impossible date: "Tuesday, August 18th." Such a date could fall in 1903
or 1914, but not in the period of the adventure. Page 173: Lord Roxton was "'eatin'
pines'" up in a tree. Pineapples? But they do not grow on trees. Page 227: The
annotators ignore the implication when Lord Roxton calls Professor Illingworth a
"fellow." And the annotators fail to note that Doyle cheated on the size of
pterodactyls, which were really rather small creatures.
Much the worst problem lies in monetary matters. The annotators convert British money
at 25cts American to the British pound. This is a considerable error: twenty-fold.
Actually, the British pound just before World War I was worth a little less than $5.00
American, as everyone working in literary history should know. Thus, whereas the
annotators claim that Professor Challenger paid about 75cts fine (£3/15) whenever he
assaulted a journalist, he really paid the conversion of about $18.00, which was an
appreciable amount at the time. And the diamonds that Lord Roxton brought from Maple White
Land, which diamonds the annotators evaluate at about $42,000 (£200,000), were properly
worth almost $1,000,000. The annotators claim to have taken their data from R.L. Bidwell's
Currency Conversion Tables, which has not been available to me. I would speculate
that the error is not Bidwell's, but that the annotators have confused shillings with
Overall, The Annotated Lost World cannot be facilely evaluated, for it has
both flaws and unique material. In my opinion, however, the positive aspects of the
book--the extra illustrations, the background material on Doyle's associations at the time
of writing, and the appendices--outweigh the defects that I have indicated and would
probably be caught and tacitly corrected by a scholarly reader. I would consider the book
a desirable acquisition for large libraries and science-fiction scholars. An errata sheet
would strengthen this recommendation.
1. Although Pilot and Rodin make the interesting suggestion that Doyle may have had in
mind the Rio Ricardo Franco area in the western State of Rondonia in Brazil, which
presents a somewhat similar geological formation to Roraima, Challenger's statement that
"'all tribes agree as to the direction in which Curipuri lives.... Something terrible
lay that way. It was my business to find out what it was'" (p. 36) removes doubt.
2. Doyle's avoidance of travel local color can be contrasted with the emphasis on such
matters in the generally inferior stories of Alpheus Hyatt Verrill, notably The Golden
City (New York: Duffield, 1916), which takes place in the same Guyanan highlands. W. H.
Hudson in Green Mansions, which is permeated with the mystique (personalized and
abstracted) of Roraima (Riolamo), makes use of imaginary geography like Doyle, but
undoubtedly for different reasons, since Hudson knew South America.
3. Doyle also followed the pattern established by European colonialism from the time of
Magellan on: on arriving in a strange land, establish friendly relations with one people,
demonize their neighbors and slaughter them, then take over power.
4. Gaboriau, Emile. Monsieur Lecoq. Introduction by E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover
Publications, 1974. The introduction examines several of these parallels and other
evidence of influence.
Aubrey, Frank. The Devil-Tree of El Dorado. NY: New Amsterdam Book Co., 1897.
London: Hutchinson, 1897.
Cleveland, Grover. The Venezuela Boundary Commission. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1913.
MacInnes, Hamish. Climb to the Lost World. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
"Noname." Along the Orinoco; or, with Frank Reade, Jr., in Venezuela.
Frank Reade Library No. 130, April 3, 1896. .
_____. The Island in the Air; or, Frank Reade, Jr.'s Trip to the Tropics.
Frank Reade Library No. 133, May 15, 1896.
Osol, Arthur, George E. Farrar et al. The Dispensatory of the United States of
America. 24th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1947.
Perazzo, Nicolas. Fronteras de Venezuela. Breves referencis historicas.
Caracas: Vargas, 1965.
Santamaria, Francisco J. Diccionario general de Americanismos. Three volumes.
Mexico City: Editorial Pedro Robredo, 1942.
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